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Table of Contents


Title Page















The Milkweed National Fiction Prize

Special underwriting for this book was contributed by Joanne and Phil Von Blon.

The Milkweed Editions Editor’s Circle

Copyright Page

Praise for The Farther Shore

“Short, sharp, devastating, The Farther Shore is a literary machine gun. Eck has written a winning debut that happens to be a war novel.”

—John Mark Eberhart, Kansas City Star

“Bold, profane, hallucinatory.... Eck’s spare, hard-knuckled prose proves well-suited to capturing the vagueries of American warriors engaged in nasty conflicts in forbidding corners of the globe.”

—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Every horrifying aspect of war is captured in Matthew Eck’s spare prose.”

—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“Fear, banality, bravado, humor, pathos—it’s all here, rendered in understated tones. It’s astonishing that this is Eck’s first novel.”

—Michael Bonafield, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Eck’s writing is best when it vivifies the danger: making us feel the heat of the explosions, see the billowing black smoke or hear the sound of an antiaircraft gun ‘burping its rounds off randomly.’ Eck . . . bring[s] us straight into the devastation.”

—Uzodinma Iweala, New York Times Book Review

“The first great war novel of our generation. The writing is often beautiful. And modern war has probably never been so fully explored as in this small, relentless novel. Eck never panders. We are not asked to cry, only to go quietly along for the ride.”

—Stephen Elliot, Salon.com

“What Eck achieves in focusing attention on the identifying details of his setting is solidarity with post-Somalia soldiers, those who participate in post-September 11, 2001, conflicts and this new, post-modern style of warfare. The moral and logistical chaos of that experience—in all its terrifying specificity—is what will resonate . . . Who could believe this of ourselves, he seems to say. And yet, here we are.”

—Michelle Orange, New York Sun

“The first great 21st century war novel belongs to Matthew Eck, who captures the chaos and calamity of modern warfare in prose filled with characters who face a ‘broiled darkness, where stunning violence, brutal death, dehydrated disorientation and an unnamed enemy are the least of their concerns when compared to the mental wreckage.’ Support the troops—read this book.”

—Todd Goldberg, Las Vegas City Life

“In concise language, this harrowing tale highlights the type of urban warfare now being waged: combatants are in the middle of not just one enemy but several warring factions, destroying the old rules of combat. In the end there is no sense of victory or even logic.”

—Joshua Cohen, Library Journal

“A beautiful and shocking novel of war and youth.”

—Heather Shaw, ForeWord

“As a war novel, The Farther Shore is a rich, distinctive page-turner. As a first novel it is exceptional, as well thought out as it is executed.”

—Ryan Auer, Bloomsbury Review

“A haunting debut. Eck goes beyond the on-the-ground chaos of battle to capture the physical and psychological disorientation of modern war.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Eck follows in Tim O’Brien’s footsteps, emphasizing not the drama of the soldier’s ordeal, but the painstaking, spirit-breaking, heart-wrenching details. A harrowing work that conveys chaos, confusion and raw fear.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Every word in Eck’s first novel is as solid as stone. Every moment of crisis feels authentic in its terror and tragedy. Heir to Hemingway, and damn near as powerful as Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Eck has created a contemporary version of The Red Badge of Courage in this tale of one young man’s trial by fire in the pandemonium of war in an age of high-tech weaponry and low-grade morality.”

—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)




IT WAS FULL DARK, MIDNIGHT, AND HEAT LIKE THAT should have disappeared. Then the bombing started. Those poor souls, the poor fucks of the city, had no idea we were watching from the rooftop of the tallest building in town, six sets of eyes in the night, calling in rounds from the circling AC-130 Spectres. When they fired too close to the city’s edge we’d make a call for them to move further out, into the unknown. When they veered too far out over the desert, and the city couldn’t feel the shudders anymore, we made another call. It was a tightrope, a balancing act, a burden we adored. We were spotters on the roof, recon in a city controlled by warlords and their clans.

I was sick again from the heat. We’d been on the rooftop since before dawn, and now it was midnight and my eyes were tired from watching.

Fizer and Heath were in the stairwell, watching and listening for any sign that anyone threatening might be in the building. Flies shifted and settled on my hands and face throughout the night, trying to get inside my mouth, my nose, my eyes, and my ears.

There was a giant bunch of bananas painted on the side of the building that faced away from the ocean. On the ocean side was a banana tree with bunches of ripe yellow bananas. The paintings had faded under the hand of all that sand and sun. The building was empty of everything, looted and abandoned to the war.

Each of us was paired with a “battle buddy.” It was Fizer and Heath, me and Cooper, and Santiago and Zeller. I was on my belly, watching the city to the east, and I could feel the heat left over from the daytime sun move up and through my body. The ocean existed out there beyond the city, some five miles away, but I couldn’t see it through the darkness. The city itself was only discernable as a shadow, a little darker than the night sky. It was a long way down from the seventeenth floor, and other than the light of the stars there was nothing to illuminate the world below. I tucked my Night Vision Goggles back into their case. Using them gave me a headache.

Cooper was to my right, on his belly as well, looking through his binoculars out over the southern part of the city. He surveyed a large swath of the city, from

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